Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction 2008
It’s that time of year again. No, not Easter, but for the announcement of the UK’s least interesting literary prizes. With the Man Booker there’s the sense that publishers are submitting the best of the best (if never to see them win) and the Costas, let’s face it, are there to mop up the best of the rest. But the Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction? It proudly claims to be “the UK’s only annual book award for fiction written by a woman”. But what relevance does it have today when even by its own admission, as per its FAQ page, it’s set out what it achieved to do (especially with women scooping the Nobel, the Man Booker, and the Costa Best Book in 2007):
At the time it was set up the considerable achievements of women novelists were often passed over by the major literary prizes.
The founders of the Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction wanted to do something about that. Which they did, very successfully.
Many years on from its creation and nobody can say women novelists are passed over by the major literary prizes.
As happens every year, a battle of the sexes (with each side infighting, too) arises and there’s no exception this year with novelist Tim Lott firing the opening salvo by declaring the prize “a sexist con trick”:
Women are predominant, in terms of numbers and power, in most of the major publishing houses and agencies. They sell most of the books, into a market that largely comprises women readers. They are favoured by what is overwhelmingly the most important publishing prize (the Richard and Judy list), and comprise most of the reading groups that drive sales. Girls in schools are more literate than boys, and pupils are taught reading mainly by female teachers promoting mainly female writers.
Following up on this, in the Times were John Sutherland’s claim that “ghettoising women writers did them more harm them good” and A.S Byatt‘s declaration of the award being sexist and that she doesn’t allow her novels to be submitted for consideration. Anita Brookner, apparently, also feels the same. Back in 1998 Nadine Gordimer refused to be shortlisted for the prize on the grounds that it recognises only women writers. Either way, Times editor, Erica Wagner, has tried to get the last word in, urging detractors to “get over it”:
Get over the idea that prizes given to novels – of any kind, stripe, gender or nationality – can, in any way whatsoever, be described as “fair”.
Wagner’s claim is that if they have done anything wrong it’s the appointment of Lily Allen to the judging panel. Big deal! Referring back to the FAQs, the prize is exclusively judged by women “to celebrate women’s critical views as well as their writing”. Although it’s all supposition about Allen’s critical ability, the prize doesn’t set such a bar on its judges – as long as they have views.
On discussing the creation of the longlist the chair of the judges, Kirsty Lang, claims that the misery memoir has infected fiction penned by women:
Reading 120 books I did find myself thinking, ‘Oh god, not another dead baby’,” said Kirsty Lang, as the longlist for the prize was announced. “There were a hell of a lot of abused children and family secrets.”
The longlist, then, is as follows
- The Blood of Flowers, Anita Amirrezvani
- The Room of Lost Things, Stella Duffy
- The Keep, Jennifer Egan
- The Gathering, Anne Enright
- The Clothes on Their Backs, Linda Grant
- The Master Bedroom, Tessa Hadley
- Fault Lines, Nancy Huston
- Sorry, Gail Jones
- The Outcast, Sadie Jones
- The Voluptuous Delights of Peanut Butter and Jam, Lauren Liebenberg
- When We Were Bad, Charlotte Mendelson
- In The Dark, Deborah Moggach
- Mistress, Anita Nair
- Lullabies for Little Criminals, Heather O’Neill
- The Bastard of Istanbul, Elif Shafak
- The Septembers of Shiraz, Dalia Sofer
- The End of Mr Y, Scarlett Thomas
- Monster Love, Carol Topolski
- The Road Home, Rose Tremain
- Lottery, Patricia Wood
So twenty titles, seven debuts, and no place for big hitters like A.L Kennedy’s Day, Nicola Barker’s Darkmans, or Jeanette Winterson’s The Stone Gods. Given the complaint about misery memoirs, it’s a wonder Anne Enright’s The Gathering made the cut.
The sad thing is that by directing the prize at women writers and readers it is effectively depriving itself of the women writing the types of books the prize would no doubt like to promote but have the sense to see that it has met its own goals and ran its course and that positive discrimination is still discrimination. And if a women takes the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction when it’s announced next month then that must surely put another question mark over the Orange Prize’s relevance.
The shortlist will be announced on 15th April, 2008, with the eventual award ceremony taking place on 4th June, 2008.
March 18, 2008